Old West History Lessons

Saddle collection dates back to the 1860s

Story and photos by Craig Reed

Sandie looks over some of the saddles in her collection. She says while some women collect shoes or clothing, she prefers to hunt for and collect saddles.

Saddles are stacked high on racks that reach to the ceiling. Not just in one room, but several.

Sandie Shepherd is proud of her collection. She has about 180, ranging from saddles for cowboys working out on the range to saddles for trick riders performing in an arena. Many are from saddle makers in Oregon, but the collection includes at least one saddle from most states.

“Some women collect shoes or clothing. I collect saddles,” says Sandie, who lives in the Elkton area with her husband, Tim.

“This isn’t a collection, it’s an addiction,” she says. “But it’s a good addiction.”

The saddles’ values run from hundreds of dollars into thousands. Hanging from most of the saddle horns is a plastic-enclosed sheet with typed information that details the saddle and its maker.

“Saddles are not easy to find,” says Sandie, who spends part of her day as the team lead for the swing shift at Orenco Systems in Sutherlin. “I don’t know if people are keeping them or letting them rot in a barn.”

Although Sandie started the collection, Tim has gradually joined the search for the next rare or unique saddle.

“I have just as much fun looking for them as Sandie does,” Tim says. “I like the collection because of the history of each saddle. Those saddles helped in the progress of America. Every saddle maker was a famous person in their community.”

Sandie Shepherd has a collection of nearly 200 saddles. This one—made by G.S. Garcia of Elko, Nevada, in 1903—was judged to be the most beautiful saddle at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo by Craig Reed

One example is a saddle made in the 1890s by Henry L. Kuck of The Dalles, Oregon. Henry became an Oregon state representative and helped established the Pendleton Round-Up—an annual tradition since 1910.

The oldest saddles in the collection are from the 1860s. Brothers John S. and Gilbert H. Collins made saddles that were popular throughout the West and favored by Buffalo Bill Cody.

Another saddle in the collection came from descendants of Daniel Boone.

More recently, Sandie bought a saddle reportedly ridden by actor Clint Eastwood in one of his movies.

There are seven Hamley saddles in the collection. Brothers J.J. and Henry Hamley began making saddles in Oregon in 1883. They set up a permanent shop in Pendleton in 1905, and the business continues to reside there.

“My favorite?” Sandie asks. “All of them, actually. I will never sell them.”

Through the 1800s and into the 1900s, every town had a saddle maker or two because of the demand. As cars became more popular and available through the early 1900s, saddle demand gradually decreased. So did the number of community saddle makers.

Sandie says perhaps she was attracted to saddles while growing up in the Applegate Valley near Jacksonville because she didn’t have one. At age 6, she found a bridle with her name on it under the Christmas tree.

“My dad told me I would eventually get a horse,” Sandie says.

When she went outside that Christmas day, her brother was holding the halter rope attached to a Shetland pony named Honeycomb. Sandie rode bareback for many years before getting her first saddle at age 15.

For many years, Sandie trained and showed horses in competitions. She says she began collecting saddles “because of my love for horses and because saddles look so pretty on them. It’s like clothing for them.”

Sandie next to her saddles
Sandie Shepherd has a collection of 180 saddles, some dating back to the 1860s. She researches the history of each saddle and types up that information, attaching it to each saddle.

In addition to searching for and buying saddles, there is additional work to owning the collection. At least a few times a year, Sandie has to take the saddles off their racks and clean them to prevent the leather from cracking or growing mold. She takes preventive measures against any mice or rats that may have squeezed into one of the saddle rooms.

While admitting that finding old, unique and rare saddles is increasingly difficult, both Sandie and Tim continue to search for them on the internet and at auctions, antique stores, and estate sales.

During their years of searching, they have also collected other memorabilia from the Old West days. They have thought about opening a museum to display the saddles and the other Western items they have collected.

“I have that dream,” Sandie says.